Board of elections answers questions about mayor’s race
There have been questions and concerns exhibited about the upcoming mayoral runoff election, which the board has addressed as they arose. We would like to take the opportunity to address them all in a central location for all readers, and do so here.
1. Why is there a runoff election, and who can vote in it? According to Ironton’s city charter, if no candidate receives at least 40 percent of the vote in the general election, the two candidates with the most votes advance to a runoff election. In this case, no candidate received 40 percent, so as the top two voted candidates, Ms. Katrina Keith and Mr. Robert Cleary are in the runoff. Any registered voter in the city may vote at the special election, whether or not they voted at the Nov. 3 election.
2. Why are there no general absentee votes allowed? Put simply, it is physically impossible. Before ballots may be sent out, the winners of the general election must be certified by the board. Under Ohio law, the earliest the board is permitted to meet and certify the elections is Saturday, Nov. 14. The board and staff met that day to accommodate the city’s runoff. We had our specialized vendors arriving the same day to code our ballots, and sent them out to our printers. We will not receive the printed ballots until Monday, Nov. 16, too late for mailing out.
3. So why can’t we vote early in person like at a regular election? Under Ohio statutes, early in-person voting is only allowed until 6 p.m. the Friday before an election (which in our case is the day before the board is allowed to certify the candidates onto the ballot). The extended early voting times in other elections resulted from lawsuits filed against the Secretary of State, and we have been advised they aren’t applicable to our election.
4. Ok, I understand the ban on absentees, but then why allow military, overseas, and nursing home residents to vote? Put simply, federal and state laws require us to treat them differently. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) says that we must send ballots to applicants how they are requested.
As such, rather than sending a printed ballot to a UOCAVA voter, we must fax or email a pdf copy of the ballot to them. They print it, fill it out, and mail the ballot back to us postmarked before election day. If the board then receives it within 10 days of election day, the votes will be counted. Because we can be assured the UOCAVA voter will receive the ballot on Saturday (the same day the pdf copies are sent to the printer), they will have enough time to process it. By law, other voters are not permitted to be given ballots in this manner.
State law also treats nursing home residents differently, as well as hospitalized voters. If the physically disabled or residents of Lawrence County nursing homes desire assistance in voting, the board is required under state law to send out staff to assist them. The board will attempt to deliver these ballots on Monday after we receive the printed ballots, but due to numerous requests may also be sending out staff on election day.
If a person or their minor child is suddenly hospitalized outside Lawrence County on election day, a family member can fill out an application and affidavit stating such, take the ballot to the voter, and then file it with the board.
5. If the board doesn’t have enough time under Ohio law to process absentee votes, why not just postpone the election, or do something else? We are not permitted to. Under Ironton’s city charter, the runoff election must be held two weeks after the general election (Nov. 17). Ohio law says that the Ironton charter “trumps” Ohio statutes if there is a conflict on this issue. Because there is only a partial conflict, the state requires us to meld the statutes together as much as possible with the charter.
6. I don’t think it’s fair, and think it hurts the ability of many to vote because they can’t get to the polls. We agree completely. When it became apparent earlier this summer that this situation could arise, the board met to discuss the same.
In addition to our own analysis, we requested the opinions and assistance of the Ohio Secretary of State, Ohio Attorney General, Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney, and Ironton City Solicitors. The universal opinion was that we were constrained by attempting to coordinate state law with Ironton’s charter, and the only way to prevent this in the future is for Ironton to change its charter provisions. The board has volunteered to assist the city in developing a charter provision setting forth a better procedure.
7. Why only two polling locations, and why these two? Ironton has 25 precincts that vote in 7 locations. Four of those locations are educational facilities that will be in session during the special election (schools normally have election day off). In addition to potential safety issues for students, it would be difficult for parking and voter access while the schools are changing classes, school buses are arriving and leaving, and students are accessing areas at or near the polling booths.
As a result, the board voted to consolidate into two polling locations. Two of the three remaining locations were discounted by the board for the election: the Harriet-Lewis apartments is a single precinct voting location that is too small to handle the number of expected voters; and the Faith and Fitness Center would require elderly and handicapped voters to parallel park with limited on-street parking.
The final regular polling location will be used: the meeting room and banquet hall of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8850, which has its own entrance and is separate from other member areas, has been used for years as a polling location.
It is handicapped accessible, and has sufficient off-street parking in its parking lot. The board also received permission from the city to use the city building as its second location. It is handicapped accessible, and the police parking lot and Briggs Library administrative parking lot immediately behind it are on the same block, so that mobility impaired voters will not have to worry about curbs or crossing traffic.
8. Why can’t I just vote at either location? We wish you could, and we agree it would make it a far simpler process. Unfortunately, under Ohio state law, each precinct must vote in a particular location, rather than at multiple locations. We hope to remedy this also by a proposed charter change.
9. I’m worried about lines at the polling locations. How long will we have to wait to vote? We will have the poll workers set up earlier than normal, although the opening times will be the same: 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. With our new systems, it takes on average less than 30 seconds to check in a voter. We also will have eight check-in pollbooks at each location, and therefore expect to have no significant waiting times.
10. Who pays for all the overtime and costs of the election? The county pays for the overtime on certification of the general election, because we met on all races that Saturday. However, the costs of poll workers, ballots, and overtime for the Nov. 17 election are required by state law to be paid by the requestor of the special election: the city of Ironton.
We hope this answers your questions as to the “why” we are doing things the way we are. As a board, we don’t like the way the conflicts between Ironton’s charter and state law require us to administer this special election, but like all citizens, we too are required to follow those laws regardless of our opinions.
The Lawrence County Board of Elections:
Craig A. Allen
Carl E. Bowen
Randall L. Lambert
Mark K. McCown